Now that the prospect camp has wrapped up with the Baby Pens finishing 2-1, it's now time to start looking forward to the NHL season with training camp ready to begin.
Addressing the events since the end of last season seems like the right place to start...so here we go.
Gone from the flock are forwards Ruslan Fedotenko, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Bill Guerin, also departed are defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Jordan Leopold, and Jay McKee. Seems like a big loss for a team that has two Cup Appearances, one Cup win in the last three years and oddly....I'm okay with everyone not coming back.
Gonchar has been too fragile and unfortunately my last memory of him will be the lackluster effort on Cammarelli's shorthanded goal, in a Game 7 nonetheless. Guerin priced himself out for his age. Billy had decent numbers but could not keep up with the speedier, younger Pens forwards. Mark Eaton and his solid but not sexy style would have been my one choice to bring back, but Mr. Shero directed that money at blue liners Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek and I'm all smiles.
Fedotenko and Ponikarovsky played their way out of Pittsburgh. McKee wasn't going to resign for the bargain price of $500,000 again and Leopold's biggest memory generator was getting KO'd against Ottawa.
To offset the losses at forward, Shero signed Ryan Craig (63 pts in 184 games) a 3rd-4th liner, Brett Sterling (4 pts in 19 games), a speedster who 1.) couldn't crack the Atlanta lineup......yes as in Atlanta THRASHERS lineup and 2.) he can't ride most rides at Kennywood....he's short for those who need a sidebar.
Rounding out the other forwards added are Mike Comrie (359 pts in 568 games), the gem of the forward signings. Signed at an eye popping $500k is an astounding deal, never mind that he's married to Hillary Duff or the fact that they signed a pre-nup to protect him. His family is rich...rich rich and he just wants to win a Cup either centering the 3rd line or playing wing for Crosby or Malkin he's capable of either. Then there's the signing of Aaron Asham....sorry, just threw up a little in my mouth. Why would you do this to me Ray, WHY????!!!! If everything was right in the world, there'll be a Shero press conference tomorrow with Shero saying " his agent called me the morning after a heavy night of drinking and I wasn't in the right mind, we wrote a check to Asham for $700,000 just to leave."
By all counts that leaves the Penguins with 13 forwards with one-way contracts and 5 defensemen on the same terms. What about Eric Tangradi, Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson, Chris Conner, and even blossoming Casey Pierro-Zabotel?
Let's hope a precedent is not beginning here. The last young players given time to develop at forward by the Penguins have been Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy, I omit Crosby and Malkin because there was never a doubt with either of those stars. Staal forced management to stay here by his play early in his rookie season and Kennedy, up until last season, always earned his next shift.
So with 13 forwards already, when are the next generation going to get their shift and opportunity? It's something we can't just ignore. Remember young forwards Chris Drury and Alex Tanguay getting their chance when teams dreaded playing Colorado? How about a young Datsyuk and Zetterberg?
All had growing pains and scoreless streaks but were taught how to become better players and leaders by playing alongside better players and leaders. They weren't told to wait and watch the likes of Craig, Sterling and Asham.........there's that vomit again. WHY!!???!!??,
Sorry, the Asham thing blows my mind. It's not the Flyer thing, I'd be content bringing Carcillo back. Most Flyer forwards I'd think would be good additions, except Asham and Hartnell.
Anyways, I can go on for days about Asham, and I've made my stance known to my eye-rolling friends that I will not be a Pens' fan for all of their exhibition games. When you here that lone boo from the stands or at the end of the bar when Asham touches the puck, look up and say "Hey Jon, nice to see you".
Did it again, sorry. Point being, Tangradi is ready for his shot. He's been dominant during the just concluded games. A force in front of the net, along the boards and an aggressive forechecker. Add the impressive pugilist skills (2 fights in as many games) and the soft touch around the net and you can come to one logical conclusion.He's reached the Staal category of give him a spot for a few games and let his play decide if he wins it or loses it.
The others are at Kennedy status, give them their shifts and left them earn their next. We may discover the next group of wingers instead of hoping every offseason or trade deadline to get one. Don't invest top six spots in Craig, Sterling and..... Asham. I'd also add to that list current Pens Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot, they don't have the pedigree and both are 3rd liners at best, with change of pace shifts at a top 6 spot. Even allow a 3rd or 4th line spot to go to an "up and comer" not a been there and have stayed there with many teams my whole career type guy. If all the prospects fail, we know what we have in the new additions and we'll have to wait to see if the prospects ever get there.
It' not like we're the defending champs with an intact lineup making a run at a repeat! Been there, done that never made it out of the second round.
Defensively, 1 spot open. Looks as if Ben Lovejoy will be the favorite, he's a smaller, older, less sexier with the puck option than Simon Despres. Lovejoy does with his smaller frame that Pens management hopes Despres will start doing with his.....playing more physical. Some say Lovejoy plays a Scuderi-ish style game that the Pens sorely missed last year.
That being said, Despres skating and stick-handling during the prospect camp has earned him his 1st shift. See if the Baby D-Pen can fly with the big boys, See if he can be the next Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, or Tyler Myers if not....there's always the less flashier and sturdier Lovejoy.
All in all, the Pens are not defending champs this season. They can start infusing the youth. Dupuis, Talbot, Asham, Craig, Sterling, Mike Rupp, Eric Goddard, Craig Adams, and Chris Kunitz will not turn into Stevens, Tocchet and Recchi but maybe....just maybe, one of the Baby Pens will! But they need their chance, and right now, it doesn't look promising at forward.